Bloomberg — Airbnb Inc. (ABNB) released the findings of its anti-discrimination efforts over the past several years, revealing a discrepancy in how guests who are perceived to be Black are approved for short-term bookings on its platform compared with their White counterparts.
The research includes data from the company’s Project Lighthouse, an initiative undertaken in 2020 in partnership with Color of Change, the online racial justice organization. Airbnb found that guests perceived to be Black had a 91.4% acceptance rate for bookings made in 2021 while those perceived to be White had a 94.1% acceptance rate. Guests perceived to be Asian and Latino or Hispanic had success rates of 93.4%. The rates are based on a random sample of 750,000 reservation requests. The study determined the perceived race of guests by using a first name and profile photo.
San Francisco-based Airbnb has been working to address bias in bookings for years, making changes in 2018 to allow hosts to see a guest’s profile photo only after accepting a booking. Since then, Airbnb has rolled out new features to combat bias and make the platform more welcoming as it expects new hosts to come online as the economy softens.
“This is definitely a continuation of the journey we’ve been on in the past six years,” said Janaye Ingram, Airbnb’s director of community partner programs and engagement. “We have a saying — ‘you can’t fix what you can’t measure.’”
In 2016 Airbnb undertook a civil rights audit of the platform, led by Laura Murphy, former American Civil Liberties Union attorney. The resulting 32-page report detailed changes the company asked members to abide by to root out racial discrimination, including an “Open Doors” policy that obligated Airbnb to accommodate any guest who reports discrimination and expanding an option called “Instant Book,” which makes a host’s home available immediately upon booking, without the host having to approve the guest ahead of time. The company followed up with a review in 2019 and launched Project Lighthouse a year later.The majority of reservations analyzed by Project Lighthouse were instant bookings, which Airbnb says “facilitates more objective bookings.” Hosts can make Instant Book accessible to guests who meet requirements like having at least one review and past positive reviews. However, the report found that guests perceived to be Black or Latino had lower usage of instant booking, largely because many don’t have a review history or are first-time users.
Removing profile photos early in the booking “proved not to make as big as a dent” as expected, Murphy said.
Airbnb is exploring changes it can make to host and guest profiles to highlight information that could foster a better connection” between the two and close the gap in reservation success among perceived races.
To help make the booking process more equitable, Airbnb is seeking to make more people eligible for instant bookings, including by allowing people with verified identities and a good track record to qualify, even if they don’t have any previous reviews. The company estimates that the changes will make 5 million people qualified for the service. Starting next year, co-travelers will inherit the reviews of the guest who made the reservation, which will help build up their track record.
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